The Natufian culture is the name given to the sedentary hunter-gatherers living in the Levant region of the near east between about 12,500 and 10,200 years ago. They were hunter-gatherers, foraging for food such as emmer wheat, barley and almonds, and hunting gazelle, deer, cattle, horse, and wild boar.
For at least part of the year, Natufian people lived in communities, some quite large, of semi-subterranean houses. These semi-circular one room structures were excavated partly into the soil and built of stone, wood and perhaps brush roofs. The largest Natufian communities (called 'base camps') found to date include Jericho, Ain Mallaha, and Wadi Hammeh 27. Smaller, short-range dry season foraging camps may have been part of the settlement pattern, although evidence for them is scarce.
The Natufians were hunter-gatherers, and they located their settlements at the boundaries between coastal plains and hill country, to maximize their access to a wide variety of food. They buried their dead in cemeteries, with grave goods including stone bowls and dentalium shell.
Artifacts found at Natufian sites include grinding stones, used to process seeds, dried meats and fish for planned meals, and ochre for likely ritual practices. Flint and bone tools, and dentalium shell ornaments are also part of the Natufian assemblage. Specific tools created for harvesting various crops are a hallmark of Natufian assemblages, such as stone sickles. Large middens are known at Natufian sites, located where they were created (rather than secondary refuse pits). Dealing with refuse is one defining characteristics of the descendants of the Natufians, the Pre-Pottery Neolithic.
Some scarce evidence indicates that the Natufian people may have cultivated barley and wheat. The line between horticulture (tending wild stands of crops) and agriculture (planting specific stands) is a fuzzy one. Most scholars believe that it was not a one-time decision, but rather a series of experiments that may well have taken place during the Natufian or other hunter-gatherer subsistence regimes.
The direct descendants of the Natufian (known as the pre-pottery Neolithic or PPN) were among the earliest farmers on the planet.
Natufian Archaeological Sites
Important Natufian sites include Mt. Carmel, Ain Mallaha (Eynan), Hayonim Cave, Wadi Hammeh, Nahal Oren, Rosh Zin, Rosh Horesha, Wadi Judayid, Beidha, Jericho, Skhul Cave, Abu Hureyra and Hilazon Tachtit.
A bibliography of Natufian sources has been collected for this project.
This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.